World #2 Roger Federer won an incredible 16 of 16 first serve points in the first set today against world #1 Rafael Nadal, on the way to a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory that represents the most ease with which Federer has handled the Spaniard since Madrid in 09–some 18 months. It took Federer close to an hour and a half to polish off Nadal, who looked uncomfortable against Federer on the fast indoor surface at the O2 Arena in London. In fact, Federer only lost 3 points on his first serve in the match, while taking 18 points from Nadal on his first serve–a sign that Roger is truly moving his feet. When Roger has played poorly this year, the weakness of his return game was very noticeable. Federer’s return game has been very strong since Paul Annacone has joined Roger’s team. Federer is now 34-4 to end the year, and has won four of the 8 tournaments he’s played since teaming with Annacone. In what was no doubt his most impressive week in close to two years, Federer easily handled the top four players in the world aside from himself, dropping only one set in the process.
The conditions indoors have always favored Federer over Nadal, but Federer looked immensely comfortable in areas where Nadal usually has him very anxious: the volley and the high ball to the backhand side. Roger moved in with ease today and knocked off several easy volleys, and in an even better sign, Federer got on top off several high backhands and ran them off the court at crazy angles. It was a career day for Federer’s backhand in the Nadal matchup, and I can’t help but think Annacone has been involved in shaping it up. Federer has been taking the ball so early on the backhand side that the ball is never as high it could be, keeping it well inside the range of what are makeable shots for him. You can tell his footwork is strong when he is able to take the backhand earlier so easily. And, when he is able to move around his backhand so easily to take forehands off Nadal’s serve, even though that tactic seemed to see Roger hit more forehands out, which was his most prominent error throughout the match. Though the play did not work for him early, it would pay dividends, as Nadal seemed very shaky on his serve today, as the thought of seeing first ball returns from Federer had to be on Nadal’s mind.
For Nadal it was a good week, as he defeated Murray and Djokovic, the third and fifth players in the world, and guys who have had the better off Nadal for the most part on fast courts. But Rafa has never done well at the YEC, on a fast indoor court, where Federer has had 3 mostly easy wins over Rafa out of a total of 8 for his career, and from his comments about ‘just being happy he proved he could play decent at the YEC’, you kind of got the idea that a strong Federer was going to do well today.
For Roger, the great man takes home his 5th YEC, tying him with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl for most in the modern era. In addition, Federer takes home a cool $ 1.63 M. It’s the accomplishment that definitely speaks most to Federer, who in his quest to go down as the greatest of all time, would like to top some records of Pete Sampras that still stand, like the 7 Wimbledon titles, the weeks at number one, and now tying him today for YEC’s. Sampras ended the year at number one 6 times, another record Federer would still like to break. But Roger will never top Pete’s 7-0 record in Wimbledon finals.
Federer fans will no doubt feel good about Roger’s chances in Melbourne after such a strong end to the year. In Melbourne in January of 2011, Federer will seek his 5th Australian Open title, defense of his crown, a record 17th major singles title, and to become the first man to win 5 or more titles at 3 out of 4 majors, also besting Sampras, who won Wimbledon 7 times and the US Open 5 times.
Federer is now 21-2 since the US Open.